India and Pakistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to share and learn from experiences of both nations on devolution of power to grass-root levels hoping that these low-hanging fruits will pave way for lasting peace. The MoU signed by the Ministry of Panchayat Raj (MPR) and National Reconstruction Bureau of Pakistan (NRBP) is not part of the confidence building process but it is hoped that the movement of people who are part of the establishment at lower levels will increase awareness and understanding between the populations.
The MoU seeks to create a Joint Working Group (JWG) to monitor and study the efficacy of local self-governments in implementing civic benefit programs. According to MPR, Pakistan is far ahead of India in the mechanisms used to devolve power as the rural and the urban local governments are integrated with bureaucracy. Further, the district administration and police there are answerable to the elected chief executive of the district and not to a centralized power structure. The MPR says that the British District
Magistrate legacy was abolished in Pakistan a long time ago and the Ministry thinks that this form may be useful to India.
In terms of numbers, India has had great success with its Panchayati Raj system covering 240,000 panchayats and nagarpalikas governed by 3.2 million elected representatives, which include 120,000 women. India's most backward state Bihar had a 50% reservation for women in its Panchayat system. While these numbers are impressive and the sheer magnitude of conducting elections at the local levels is commendable and must be appreciative for the process, it is debatable if the Panchayat System itself is actually functional or efficient. Panchayat leaders are often ill-trained, ill-equipped, ill-funded, and mired into one political party or the other. Hence, the political mess at the state or federal level is invariably visible at the local level. Instead of focusing on implementation of social welfare schemes and monitoring development, the Panchayat System is used as means to develop a vote-bank by politicians.